Food blogs, unplugged

Where did they all come from?

By
January 24, 2007

It seems so long ago. Back in the fall of 2003, a disparate group of individuals both passionate and carefree joined forces. Their interests, they declared, weren’t being represented. Together, they decided to change the way the world views food. Through the use of a new tool called a “blog,” they created a revolution in the food media, one that allowed for the voices of the common people to be heard.

And heard they were.

Internet readers flocked to the missives of many of these new food writers. As a result, life grew chaotic for traditional media. The old guard had been covering food in much the same way for years, often relegating it to its own special section once a week, then ignoring it the rest of the time. Caught off guard, major newspapers and magazines immediately began noting the impact these people were having upon the food world.

No need to dress for dinner.

It makes for a great history of food blogs, touching as it does upon many of the clichés that go into a good retelling: the passionate underdog, the voice of the people, the large media companies taking notice.

But, alas, it’s a false history.

Actually, the rise of food blogging had more to do with the increased popularity of “blogs” than it did with any change in food or perceptions of food reporting. As blogging tools became easier to use, the blogging world gave millions of people the chance to voice their opinions. Some talked of politics, media, and technology, while others talked about their own lives, often in great minutiae. Then there were those of us who talked about food.

There was never any conspiracy to forward the discussion about food. It just happened.

My own site, Accidental Hedonist, started as a place where I could keep notes on my explorations and education in food and the various food industries. That people eventually found what I had to say interesting was an added bonus. But I wasn’t looking for more than that — and I’m happy to add that now, aside from having about 10,000 readers a day and a few extra dollars in my pocketbook per month, my life hasn’t changed all that much. (Like many food blogs, Accidental Hedonist accepts advertising.) I still work in a job that has nothing to do with the food industry, and I still write a paragraph or two a day, just like I did three years ago.

Unlike politics, media, or technology, the love of food is nearly universal. A blogger in New York can write about the pleasures of a Neapolitan-influenced pizza and a reader in Australia instantly understands what the New Yorker is talking about. The writers of food blogs understand that it’s not the pizza that resonates with readers so much as the pleasure that the food brings. It is this joy that shows up in post after post, week after week, and this pleasure that shows up within the context of the writer’s life.

It’s this universal connection that has made it easy for food blogs to be recognized by those outside the blogosphere. Whether it was the exploratory writings of a young Parisian just back from the United States, the globe-hopping exploits of a restaurant fanatic, or the musings of a home cook trying to get through her 101 cookbooks, people took notice and revisited these food bloggers again and again. At some point, the bloggers became less like novelties and more like trusted friends.

Now, after a few years, food blogs have garnered their share of major media attention. They’ve been covered in Time, USA Today, Canada’s National Post, the United Kingdom’s The Guardian, and dozens of other news publications around the globe. Nearly all of these articles mention the passion behind these new food sites, but most have failed to notice the bigger picture: that a large community of individuals is writing about food in ways that the mainstream food media had forgone.

When Food & Wine writer Pete Wells (now an editor at the New York Times) made the mistake of telling food bloggers how to be entertaining — lamenting the fact that food blogs often focused on such mundanities as cheese sandwiches — many food bloggers responded by having a “Cheese Sandwich Day.”

Food bloggers don’t typically write in order to discuss what other people in the food media want to hear. Food bloggers tend to write about things that they want to talk about, whether it’s how the Michelin ratings for the restaurants in San Francisco lack credibility, or how organic food standards are at risk of being watered down, or even how satisfying the cheese sandwich they had for lunch that day was.

Why? Because the information provided by the traditional food media and multinational food corporations are not addressing the topics that food bloggers wish to talk about.

That’s not to say that food blogging will take over the world. It won’t. But it does add a new voice to the food media, one that is more passionate, more individual, and more immediate. In my opinion, the community of food bloggers has had a greater effect upon the national discourse about food than any individual writer.

Sure, some bloggers have distinguished themselves, but it’s the community as a whole that gets the majority of the kudos. Go to one of the food blogs mentioned above and check out their links to other blogs; you’ll soon see what I mean.

Not everyone in the mainstream food press misses the point of food blogs. Gourmet editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl, for example, said in a recent interview on public radio that food blogs have affected some of her editorial decisions. Several food bloggers have received book deals; others now have agents. These Internet residents have become so popular that they are finding homes for their words in other media. What started as a hobby for some has now become a way of life.

For my part, I’m glad to be a part of the food-blog community. It’s well established, but still has room for anyone with an Internet connection and a passion for food. Even if the food happens to be a cheese sandwich.

Kate Hopkins is the Accidental Hedonist. She lives in Seattle.

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